Rowan’s a fiddle-singer, writer and tunesmith currently based in west Sussex, who since winning the Future Of Young Folk Award at Bromyard Folk Festival in 2016 has come to prominence on the circuit as a member of Georgia Lewis’ band, making a great contribution to Georgia’s album as well as to that of fellow band-member Rosie Hodgson (both albums have been reviewed here). But all the while, Rowan’s been nurturing ideas for a solo album of his own as well as becoming involved in other projects (especially the EFDSS-sponsored Songhive, which aims to raise awareness of the plight of the UK’s native bees).
Rowan’s already packed a lot into his life; he grew up in the foothills of the Burren on the west coast of Ireland, immersed in Irish traditional music due to his enviably musical family background (his father Charlie was a founder member of Dé Danann, and his mother Frances taught Rowan to play the fiddle). Following the move to England for his studies, he was introduced to Swedish music by the ace fiddler Ben Paley, and has developed a healthy and varied touring profile wherein in addition to the above-mentioned acts he works with Anna Tabbush and The Causeway Céilí Band.
So it’s inevitable that Rowan’s debut solo album both references and draws on his varied musical experiences thus far. Its title, Mountscribe (Muine Scríobach) is the name of the small tract of land just outside the village of Kinvara on the Galway/Clare border where he grew up, and both his own childhood memories and a poem by Moya Cannon have informed the writing of his simple yet most affecting song that opens the album; the melody often associated with The Handsome Cabin Boy well suits the sentiments, and is aptly succeeded by a jig, one of three Paddy Fahey compositions on the album. That opening track is a perfect illustration of Rowan’s talents, while also a clear harbinger of the delights to follow. Rowan’s style, both as fiddler and singer, is both easy on the ear and clearly accomplished (so effortless-sounding!),and yet there’s an abundance of listener satisfaction too, for Rowan’s life-and-soul energy is inclusive and infectious. He wears his virtuosity lightly, for his singing has a nimbly sprung quality which mirrors the deft sweep and agility of his fiddle strokes. In addition, the vocal and instrumental textures are complementary, with the darker strengths of Rowan’s five-string fiddle a really effective foil for the delicately considered yet often seemingly fragile expressiveness and high tenor register of his voice. Rowan has a well-developed sense of decoration, and his personal take on keening (on the lament The Wounded Hussar) is very persuasive – as is his superlative account of When All The World Is Young, a setting (by Kathleen Behan) of words by A.E. Housman and Charles Kingsley.
Rowan’s own compositional skills are most impressive too, whether in song or tune mode, and he has a real flair for blending both modes; The Cuckoo inventively pairs Rowan’s new verses to this traditional song with Swedish polska The Little Sparrow; Maid Went To Comber pairs a version of the well-known Next Market Day with another Swedish tune, and A Royal Game (first heard on Georgia’s album The Bird Who Sings Freedom) similarly with a polska composed by Rowan in the Swedish style. Rowan’s tune for emigration song The Roslea Farewell is authentic enough to pass for traditional, whereas the disc’s second song of parting, the self-penned Emigrantvisa (which sounds as though it was actually recorded on the shoreline), takes its beautiful melody from a traditional Swedish source. Rowan he captures the industrious bustling activity of the bees so well on Queen And Country, an advocation from the viewpoint of the bee itself, and he also takes delight in cheeky only-slightly-veiled autobiography on Robin And The Banker. Rowan’s prowess on fiddle (and bouzouki) is beyond any criticism, but he realises the value of surrounding himself with simpatico musician friends too; Felix Miller (fellow-member of the Georgia Lewis Band) helps out on six- and twelve-string guitars, while there are extra special, selected appearances from Georgia (vocal, bodhrán), Rosie (vocal and clog-stepping), Anna (vocals, fiddle), Philippe Barnes (flute, whistle) and Charlie Piggott (button accordion) to spice things up further. There’s also a sneaky little hidden track that sounds like a convivial session warmup (“too good to waste” no doubt).
Rowan’s produced the album himself too, with a clear-sightedness, a sense of direction and purpose, that conforms to his musical vision. And the packaging is of a fulsome and highly professional standard too. This is a proud and very assured debut which will surely enhance Rowan’s existing high profile even more considerably.
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